Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Space Magic in Rad Astra

First, a confession...

This is one of those posts that I initially dread writing. Mainly because I over think it. I've been mulling over ideas for space magic for a loooong time. Problem is I'd read spellcasting rules for other games as inspiration and that would just end up as an exercise in disappointment once I realized it wouldn't work in a rules-light game like X-plorers (the ruleset I'm currently using for Rad Astra) or other similar systems.

I'd decided a long while back on how I wanted the character class to work, but that didn't give me much of a clue about how to structure the underlying system. Until I decided to just let go and use X-plorers as my divining rod and snip off ideas from other sources without (hopefully) borrowing from them whole-cloth. Either way, this stuff still needs to be playtested.

This is a long winded way of saying, I'm not entirely sure this will work, but it's a start. I had originally planned to run a new spells system and space warlock/wizard class at Con of the North in 2015 but I was still hashing out details. So maybe consider this the first in a series, with this first post explaining how magic works (in a broad, rambling sense!), and an upcoming post will outline how the new class works.

This is all to say, it's going to take me a few tries to get this right. All right, let's begin...

How Magic Works in Rad Astra

In the beginning of spacetime, before the birth of the old gods and the plucking of the universal filaments to create the vibrations that would give way to the multiverse, there was only... the Krackle. The original source of all things that cracked, sputtered, spit, and hissed with raw power. Pure and potent, it's energies were first discovered by the eternal titans of the cosmos. Not only did they weave eternal geometries it into galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae, but likewise did they pour its essence into the "reverse" of spacetime fabric: hyperspace, astrality, and the dark dimensions. Hence, its application is unlimited. It can be pooled or tapped and called forth, fueling cosmic and arcane might. But those gifted mortals who seek to tame the blood of the universe are cursed to crave it evermore! 

Krackle-casting is based on a spell-point system. A base level of points is always available to the caster in their Presence (PRE) and Intelligence (INT) attribute scores--these also happen to be the prerequisites for two new classes, ASTROCASTER and STARLOCKE.

PRE: 9
INT: 10

Additional points for spellcasting are obtained by acquiring items that can power spells, leveling up your starlocke character, or by combining spells to form new ones. That's right--creating your own spells earns you the ability to cast them (more on that in a bit). This is can be done at any point in the game, including during combat.

A few thoughts on how Krackle might work: 
  • Krackle points typically come in single-digit increments.The pool of points available begins with that character's attribute scores for Presence and Intelligence. Additional points are gained through character level advancement. 
  • Attribute scores remain the same (unaffected) since the Krackle points are the equivalent of the two attributes--they don't actually represent the scores themselves. So scores don't diminish as points are spent.*
  • Casters may attempt spells of any level, so long as they have the points to spend. Hit points may be converted to spell points at a ration of 3:1 (three hit points for each spell point). 
  • Special items and artifacts modify the number of points available to the caster.
  • Some spells may only drain the item--and might not need to subtract points from the caster's available pool, as determined by their attributes.
  • *A number of higher-level spells take more effort to implement. Detrimental effects, such as mental strain, physical exertion, etc. are the trade-off for performing incredible feats (e.g., smashing comets, redirecting spacecraft, slicing up an asteroid, etc.) and also may require sacrificing attribute scores in which ever category is applicable (PHY, INT, PRE, AGL) to that feat.
  • Magic items may enhance certain spells, globally effect spell points (act as batteries) or have other in-game effects.
  • Once Krackle (spell points) are used up, they must be recharged either with rest or by magical means. Base Krackle points (those calculated through attributes and attained by level advancement) recharge to their full amounts each game session, unless an ongoing effect is in play.
  • This one's not finaly, but I sort of like the idea that in combat, spells could use INT to determine the success of hitting a target (i.e., "to hit") and PRE to determine the effect/amount of damage. That might not fly though--we'll see. Keep in mind that certain magic items can modify your attribute scores. So a special circlet that increases your intelligence, might help you aim better in combat.

Space Spell Codices

The most ubiquitous spells are listed in the Kantikum Kozmika, a tome of ancient universal mystery and magic created by the eternal ones and discovered and decoded eons later by early masters of astrocasting. Other spell books are rumored to exist as well. It was discovered after many millennia of research that their Krackle value (in points) can be determined simply by using their level number--so a level 3 spell has 3 Krackle points.

Each caster is expected to begin working on their own spell codex, which can be stored via neurochip. Memorization is a thing of the past! All spells are available to attempt. New spells may be acquired through research, exploration, or by downloading the contents of a slain foe's neurochip. This is a laborious process that requires special study and time away from the battle.

Some casters have taken to hotwiring a neurochip on the fly, for which there will be consequences.

Smashcasting: Combining Spells to Create New Ones

With inspiration--at the very moment of creation--comes a higher knowledge. With discovery and the unraveling of cosmic secrets through improvisation, comes power. 

Starlockes can bend magical energies by combining spells. In-game this means taking the average of those spells point values, and add that number to their pool of Krackle. A spell with 2 Krackle and a spell with 8 Krackle have an average of 5, which is the number of points needed to fuel the spell.

If you're thinking--how could the high-level part of the spell be accomplished if it's being handicapped by a lower-level spell? That's where artifacts and special items come into play. An amulet might increase the number of spell points, bringing that average up. Essentially, the spell would run at full power.

See, the catch is that since the starlocke is essentially experimenting with cosmic energies, the outcome isn't really known. Chances are that it will be under-powered,(e.g.,limited in range, effect, or other outcome). So it's in the caster's interest to seek out other sources of power to help fuel spells. Mo Krackle, mo problems, ya dig?

Oh, one more thing: a new spell must be used within 1 round of its creation. Mashing up spells on the fly is a spontaneous event that can't be stopped once set in motion by the popping, wheezing hum and torrent of cosmic energy.

In the context of the game, the GM and player will need to quickly negotiate what actually occurs. More on that later.

How Spells Work in the Physical Realm vs. Astrality

Spells that concentrate their attacks in the physical realm, deal their effects in physical outcomes. So if a starlocke is using a telekinesis spell to hurl objects at an opponent, then the opponent must dodge (AGL, agility score), the real physical object. Simple, right? But if the telekinesis is being used to, say, wrestle an opponent to the ground or bind them--the opponent's strength is the force being countered by the spell. So the spell casting must be more powerful than that opponent's PHY (physique score) in order to be successful. If the attack is a hit, then physical damage in hit points would be calculated (if any).

Spells attacking in Astrality (the astral plane) work much the same, but the attributes change due to the setting. Astrality is not a physical place, but one of light, sound, and phantom constructs--it's a realm of the mind. So the PRE (presence score) attribute is the stand-in here. If mental damage should occur, it could be calculated any number of ways: a scenario type of effect or consequence, as described in the spell--or in some cases it could have an effect on the target's PRE or INT (intelligence) attributes for the remainder of the game (the spell description would clarify, which).

These are likely the only two scores you'll need to worry about if you're attacking or defending from a telekinetic attack, but the general rule applies. Most spells will explain this type of change, but starlocke players should be aware of how a spell's effects and the nature of the attack differ from one realm to the next.

Magic in (Newtonian) Motion

Magical effects in Rad Astra have a funny way of coming back around--for better or worse. Wait, so PCs don't just expend spell points to accomplish something through magical means? Nope.

Every action has an equal, but opposite reaction.
--Paraphrased from Newton's Third Law

Depending on the type of spell cast, it's magnitude (in points), and the eventual outcome rendered, those spent points will go into a pool held by the GM. And periodically s/he will roll on a table to see what exactly that effect return back into the game. This could be accomplished in something in the way of a specific spellburn effect (a la DCC) or more of a general table of effects.

A full write-up on the Starlocke and Astrocaster classes, schools of magic, and example spells is forthcoming. I may also ditch every last word of this and go in another direction, so be warned!


  1. Seems like a flavorful set-up!

    1. Thanks! I hemmed and hawed on this for a long time and I'm still not sure I've made up my mind. But sometimes, you just gotta hit "publish" and go from there.

  2. Dude, this is SWEET! I can't wait to read more.